It was only a matter of time before someone came out with a definitive look at the rise of Kanye West: a musical icon, fashion trailblazer and one of the most polarizing figures in pop-culture history. Looking at West, it’s easy to see why someone with a story like his deserves a documentary like this. Luckily, some people close to Kanye took a bet on him early and because of that, Jeen-Yuhs: A Kanye West Trilogy is filled with never-before seen footage and the most in depth look at West to date. Most people today have heard about West in some form, whether it’s through his countless chart-smashing hits, his massive global fashion endeavor, Yeezy, or simply because of his massive celebrity status. While extremely controversial, it’s hard to deny the sheer magnitude of his star. Anyone who achieves this level of greatness and fame is bound to have one hell of a story. From the countless legendary hip-hop moments, to the deeply vulnerable talks with his late mother, Donda, West’s life has been full of both painfully real and larger-than-life moments. For someone like West, it’s easy for these specific moments in time to get lost when looking back at his career, but with this documentary, these chill-inducing, career defining stories are given context and weight like never before. This all serves to remind us (and maybe himself) who he is and where he came from. It’s impossible to watch this documentary and not notice how much West has changed, but with that, we can also look at how he has remained true to his ambitions and how the braggadocios front West has become known for may have changed into unprecedented arrogance as he ascended into the heights of pop-culture.
Before we get into the first episode, it’s important to look at how a project like this came to be. For any documentary, it’s important to consider the people behind the camera in addition to the subject. For this one, those people are Coodie Simmons and Chike Ozah. Simmons, who met West over 20 years ago, saw something in him that later would be revealed to the rest of the world in grand fashion: a level of determination, combined with a new sound and fresh voice that would ultimately turn the entirety of hip-hop on its side. Before meeting West, Simmons was a comedian and TV personality with a love for filmmaking. Shortly after meeting him, Simmons saw a revolutionary motivation in West, and knew that it must be captured. Along with Ozah, they would redirect their career paths to work with West for over two decades. The result was multiple music videos and an unbelievably vulnerable look at one of music’s most prolific personalities.
As the documentary addresses, the person West is today feels very distant from who we are re-introduced to in 1998. Today, West is one of the most controversial figures in the media. Between his countless inflammatory statements, the dissolution of his marriage and a failed presidential bid in 2020, his recent actions have alienated many fans, like myself, that love his music, but harbor genuine concern for his mental and emotional wellbeing. One of the major accomplishments of this documentary is that, in a way, grounds and humbles him. To me, this feels like almost a last-ditch effort to remind us of who he is at his core. West has never needed this chance for a social reset more than he does now. For those who have written West off as “off the deep end” and “unhinged” (both fans and non-fans alike), this documentary aims to bring us back to another time where his words were also perceived as outrageous. A time where a young man’s belief in himself led him to prophesize all his success and impact. By far the most striking part of this documentary is the sheer manifestation of legacy. From the start, West had massive dreams and with the perspective we have now, it’s truly mind-blowing to see how he made those dreams come true. Through its three parts, this documentary is sure to provide much needed perspective for the idiosyncratic figure that is Kanye West, and remind us that behind all the flash and fame, there’s a sensitive and complex man with a story that demands telling.
Jeen-Yuhs: A Kanye West Trilogy will be released on Netflix on February 16th and the first episode, Act 1: Vision, will have a limited theatrical run beginning on February 10th.